Picture the scene: A client arrives for an important meeting. At the reception, he's asked to sign-in as part of your company's normal visitor protocol. Not unusual, right? But what if that sign-in sheet could send you a text telling you your next appointment has arrived? Welcome to the IoT, the Internet of Things.
Thanks to recent advances in technology receiving automated texts from a sign-in sheet is already possible. And that's just the beginning. And If you're a self-confessed technophobe, then hold onto your hat. The Internet of Things is about to have a staggering impact on the business world.
At its most basic, the Internet of Things is the connectivity between any number of smart objects that can be paired via a Wi-fi network. This includes everything from wearable devices (think Apple watch), smartphones and computers, to lamps, coffee machines, printers, photocopiers and much, much more.
But it won't stop there. For example, your printer could order itself a resupply of ink when it's getting low. Or how about the thermostat in your office self-adjusting in response to a change in room temperature, the number of colleagues working in the same office, plus the level of sunshine streaming in through the windows?
Here's what your office could look like in the very near future
According to the IT consulting company, Gartner, the possibilities are limited only by our imagination, and by the time the year 2020 arrives there will be over 25 billion devices connected via the IoT, the company claims.
Right now, a large portion of the implementation of IoT for offices concerns itself with security. When your employees work late do you always have a security guard in the building or a receptionist at the front desk? IoT will let you install cameras that stream a live feed to your smartphone so you can see who is coming and going, and when. Smart doorbells complete with cameras and audio equipment will allow you to talk to visitors and delivery drivers as and when they arrive on your premises. And equipping your office doors with smart locks means you won't have to worry about someone losing a key. All you need to do is whip out your smartphone and send a text message to change the entry codes.
But security concerns are not the only factors about to be influenced by the IoT. Lightbulbs will be able to change colour and smartphone pictures can be used to impress on special occasions. Imagine greeting an important client by bathing your reception walls with the colours of their company logo. Sensors that control temperature and motion-sensitive lights that help keep costs down when rooms are not being used. Conference booking systems which can coordinate between your phone and your computer and send reminders to your attendees. Not to mention preparing your PowerPoint presentation so it's ready to go when you are.
Audio-visual systems will also get an overhaul in all the rooms of your commercial workspaces. And here, in particular, is where IoT might even excel expectations: by creating better technology to actually improve work productivity. IoT devices will be able to offer more flexibility and better collaboration for constructive brainstorming sessions, ad hoc meetings, inter-connected desks and workstations, as well as Monday morning company-wide meetings, data analysis and content curation.
So, what are the advantages?
The Internet of Things will definitely come with some very distinct advantages. A fully automated workspace leaves little room for mistakes in the lower echelons of the work process, such as customer orders and fulfilment, data processing, inventory and invoicing etc. Energy savings will also be a huge plus, and so too will improvements in health and safety, especially in the manufacturing sectors. Picture a forklift truck which can triangulate every employee ID badge within its vicinity. If for any reason someone gets too close to the forklift while it is moving it can apply its brakes automatically.
But we're not just talking about 'gadgets' here. The personalisation and customisation of employee workspaces will supposedly make them feel more appreciated. And imagine the productivity of your workforce rising because of ideal lighting levels, with white noise or background music being remotely controlled from an easily accessible console. With the arrival of the IoT, your office spaces are all set to become places of increased performance, productivity and comfort.
And what are the challenges?
Along with the advantages, there will invariably be some challenges too. Multiple connected devices and increasingly complex office systems will mean that specialized IT staff will become a hiring necessity. The cost of repairs when something breaks will doubtless go up. Plus, much of this automation, like planters that send a text to your smartphone when they sense when they need fertilizer and water, and window shutters that adjust themselves according to the levels of sunlight, don't as yet appear to bring that much value to a business.
How will the IoT impact the privacy of employees?
This is, of course, the biggest question of all. If the IoT is able to track all employees during work hours, and sometimes even out of hours, how well protected is their privacy? What happens when the office lights don't come on in time because the colleague responsible hit their snooze button 3 times and turned up late for work? Sure, your photocopier doesn't worry too much about your smartphone tracking its ink supply and consumption. But won't office workers be wary of devices that can track how much they pay for their morning coffee or record how much they spend on eBay during their lunch break?
The Internet of Things certainly has the potential to bring great changes to the way we work and to some extent, the way we live. Experts believe that efficiency will go through the roof, resources will become more specifically tailored to the requirements of your office, and human error will become a very slim margin indeed. The culture of your company, the comfort of your employees, but also their job satisfaction could all get a boost from the Internet of Things. Coffee pots and light bulbs are only the beginning